If anyone is to blame for the mass panic that swept across the globe, it is the medical profession. It failed us beyond words in providing a measured, reasoned, proportional, and analytical response to this health crisis.
Yesterday, the White House's coordinator, Dr. Brix suggested in a public statement that 200,000 people might die in the USA (based on the flimsiest of evidence and on undisclosed mathematical models not available for peer review and scrutiny). Dr. Fauci of NIAID is not far behind in his coast to coast alarmism.
The world renowned epidemiologist Lipsitch published an academic paper (with others of equal stature) suggesting, with a straight face, that social distancing was a successful measure in the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918-19. To remind you: 100,000,000 died on that unhappy occasion. Isn't such a slaughter more indicative of the dismal failure and dangerous nature of quarantines and universal isolation - rather than its alleged and untried efficacy?
Other leading luminaries, or rather self-aggrandizing panic merchants - like Osterholm, the self-imputed "virus doctor" - are making the talk show rounds, strutting their stuff: they are some of the very same people who erred egregiously by predicting 1,400,000 dead in both the SARS (2002-3) and the Ebola pandemics and the need for 500,000,000 vaccines immediately, or else.
So, what is going on? Fear of failure and its attendant humiliation ("not on my watch"), better safe than sorry, the intoxicating novel experience of the limelight and mini-celebrity, and terror of the devastating consequences of litigation run amok.
There are 8 strains of SARS Cov-2 (the COVID-19 virus). Is it going to mutate and kill us all? Exceedingly unlikely. HIV (the AIDS virus) has been around since 1931 and has mutated only in 1971. Even so, it infected 75,000,000 and killed 32,000,000 people. Like SARS Cov-2, HIV is a zoonotic virus (zoonosis: transmitted from animals to humans). Such viruses account for 60% of all human illnesses and 75% of new emerging infections.
To study mutations in genetic epidemiology, we sequence genomes and construct phylogenetic trees.
SARS Cov-2 is a very big RNA virus: with 30,000 nucleotides, it is twice as big as the flu agent. But it mutates only twice a month (flu: once or twice a week). Flu circulates among pigs and birds which serve as in vivo labs for mutations.
SARS Cov-2 has two secret weapons: 1. Spikes which allow it to latch onto the ACE2 protein receptor throughout the respiratory system, upper and lower; and 2. Furins: binding proteins that pierce into the patient's tissue like sharpened knives(anthrax has the same lovely feature)
Ironically, vaccines and medicines exert selective pressure on viruses: they mutate to offer resistance and only the strongest survive the onslaught. Antibiotic resistance has already rendered one third of our antibiotics useless.
The fear is that SARS Cov-2 will undergo an antigenic shift and combine with another virus, far more virulent and transmissible, also allowing it to cloak itself invisible to the immunological system.
Antigenic drift (its current state) is actually likely to reduce its effectiveness (as it did to SARS and MERS). Big viruses are less likely to undergo drift and more like to recombine with other pathogens.
Still, the good news is: immunity acquired is likely to last for years as the virus changes only minimally. This is why universal quarantine and social distancing are huge mistakes: they prevent the emergence of herd immunity. Measures targetted only vulnerable populations would have forestalled much of the tragedy now unfolding.
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